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Retail Consumers Prefer to Buy Offline Versus Online

Bricks and Mortar Stores are the Preferred Purchase Destination for U.S. Shoppers

While the digital age has encouraged more consumers to shop and browse products on the web, physical stores are still primary destinations for shoppers, according to PwC’s annual consumer survey, Total Retail: Retailers and the Age of Disruption. Based on a survey of more than 19,000 respondents globally, the report reveals that the physical store remains the retail touch point with the highest frequency, driving retailers to transform in-store experiences with differentiated storefronts that turn stores into ultimate shopping destinations.

According to the survey, only 27 percent of U.S. consumers say they shop online weekly. Reserving the strength of the traditional store, 68 percent of U.S. respondents say they have intentionally browsed products at a store but decided to purchase them online, while 73 percent say they have browsed products online but decided to purchase them in-store. Sixty-five percent of the respondents noted delivery fees as the reason for purchasing in-store, as well as having the item immediately (61 percent), and trying it on/seeing it (61 percent).

For the past several years, the story around retail stores was ‘showrooming,’ in which stores were places to display items for online purchase. However, this year’s survey results reveal that the online shop has also become a showroom where shoppers research and compare prices for later, in-store purchases,” said Steven Barr,PwC U.S. retail & consumer practice leader. “As online shopping continues to grow at the expense of store visits, we expect the premium in the future may be on creating unique, brand-defining store and online experiences that keep consumers coming back.”

The environment for retailers has never been more complex as consumers continue to develop their own approach to researching and purchasing products, both online and in-store. Achieving “total retail” to meet the needs of consumers requires that retailers think beyond channels – however, retailers are faced with four waves of disruption, according to the survey results:

  • The Evolution of the Store – Tailoring to the digital age, the role of the store will likely continue to evolve into something more connected, more customized, and increasingly attuned to shoppers’ expectations of what the in-store, online, and mobile “experience” should be.
  • Mobile Technology – Mobile is still a very small piece of the pie in terms of overall retail sales, but mobile phones are increasingly a critical factor in setting the stage for a purchase
  • Social Networks – Social media’s impact on retail may evolve along two tracks: one for the developing world in which social media increasingly becomes part of the daily fabric of shopping, and another one for developed economies, in which social media continues to be more of a communications tool rather than a shopping tool.
  • Demographic Shifts – Global aging patterns show retailers can count on a large segment of global consumers who have a long track record of spending and intend to spend into the foreseeable future.

Mobile technology is a disruptor that continues to play a large role in the purchase journey, but currently, in the U.S., it is more of an instrument to get to the point of buying a product, rather than a tool for the actual purchase. About half (46 percent) of U.S. survey respondents have researched products on their mobile phones, while nearly the same percentage (45 percent) have used them for price comparisons. Mobile payments are still in the infancy stage, with only one percent of consumers using them as their preferred method of payment. Plastic still leads, with U.S. consumers citing credit cards (40 percent) and debit cards (40 percent) as their preferred payment methods. Additionally, security remains an issue as 33 percent of U.S. consumers say they do not use their smartphones or tablets for shopping due to concerns of security, and 77 percent are wary of having their credit card information hacked using a mobile phone.

U.S. retailers’ and brands’ enthusiasm for social media is also driving consumers to engage, and for some time it led many to believe that social media platforms were a robust vehicle for shopping. According to the report however, only four percent of U.S. respondents say they have purchased products via social media and 34 percent say they only use social media to follow favorite brands and retailers. When asked if their interactions on social media had led them to buy more, 36 percent said “yes, in some cases” — showing social media’s effect on retail is just starting to be felt.

Integrating technology, along with the power to engage on social media, has enhanced the consumer experience while requiring companies to transform their legacy system,” continued Barr. “As these disruptions continue to influence the shoppers’ purchase journey, the retail store will likely become an experiential venue for both online and non-online purchases. From in-store design studios, and personal shopping assistants to coffee and tea ateliers, retailers are offering a comprehensive experience, evolving into something sleeker, more customized, and increasingly attuned to shoppers’ expectations of what the in-store experience should be.”

“Consumers are seeking retail ‘experiences’ over simple purchase transactions, which is inspiring landlords and retailers to collaborate on making the destination more enjoyable, convenient and memorable,” added Byron Carlock, PwC’s U.S. real estate practice leader. “For the physical store to remain relevant today, retailers should adapt to consumer preferences, and our Total Retail report helps companies understand what matters most to shoppers today.”

Sallie Burnett
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